Sunday, 22 April 2012

Treasure Hunting at Kyoto Market

One of our regular routines back in Australia would be getting up early on Sunday morning to head off to the local ‘Trash ‘n’ Treasure’ market to see if we could pick up something interesting or unique. While most of the time what was for sale erred on being more trash rather than treasure, there was always the possibility finding something special lying at the bottom of an old box or trailer. So each week there was always a certain ‘thrill of the chase’ as Jules and I set off with great expectations of what we might bag.

From our traveling experience it seems that this basic primeval urge is evident in every culture and Japan is certainly no different. Since being in Osaka we have investigated a number of different markets in the Kansal region, each with their own unique character and variations in the goods for sale. However, currently our favorite one can be found at the Toji Temple in Kyoto where a couple of times a month the normally sedate sacred grounds are transformed into a bustling magnet for bargain hunters looking for all manner of furniture, pottery, artwork, clothes and general ‘bric-a-brac’. The beauty of the location, with its backdrop of wooden temples, is really quite a bonus that certainly enhances the market experience. This is in stark contrast to the deserted drive-in cinemas back in Australia that were often resurrected once a week for such events. Likewise, what is for sale seems to us far more exotic, representing both ancient and contemporary aspects of Japanese culture. It is not unusual to see stalls selling traditional kimonos and samurai swords next to ones selling manga comics and figurines of popular super heroes. We often see some wonderful old pieces of Japanese furniture, many of which are unfortunately far too large for us to carry home on the train. However, some of the most poignant artifacts for sale often come from the World War Two era; reminding us of the days of Imperial expansionism as seen from a Japanese perspective. While ephemera from the 50’s and 60’s provides tangible evidence of social and economic recovery and the inevitable influence of western culture.

 While our more favored antique market is held on the first Sunday of each month, the largest general market is actually held on the 21st day of each month (not quite sure of the significance of that date), which dramatically widens the scope of what is on offer. With the addition of all manner of produce stalls, plants and handicrafts, the market becomes enormous. So much so that stalls burst out from the temple grounds into the local streets.

Like all such markets, there is always a very lively and friendly atmosphere. Being free to enter, the market provides an interesting combination of bargain hunters, tourists and worshippers that makes it all quite unique. There is usually plenty of street food being cooked, providing some very tempting aromas and it’s not uncommon to see the local traders enjoying a bowl of noodles while conducting business. They are all pretty relaxed and it seems that they are well used to overseas visitors searching out interesting souvenirs of their time in the country. We have found that they are always prepared to make allowances for our lack of Japanese language and of course in the end, as always, money does the talking. While we are usually quite selective about what we acquire at the Toji Antique Market, the items gathered certainly provide some of our most cherished mementos of our time here so far.

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